Tuesday, August 4, 2015
I Left My Heart in San Francisco - Tony Bennett
Columbia CS 8669
Here is a post for Ralph Sharon who died back in March. Sharon played piano and did arrangements for Tony Bennett for many years and was credited by him with introducing him to his trademark song "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." I rhapsodized about my long love affair with this song in my post on "Tony's Greatest Hits Volume III" so I won't repeat that here. It is easily the best song on the record and Sharon's delicate piano lines contribute greatly to the song's atmospheric effect. The song was written by George Cory and Douglass Cross who gave the song to Sharon who forgot about it for awhile. He came across it again prior to Bennett's 1961 appearance at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and worked up an arrangement. They did the song and predictably it went over big. In early 1962 Bennett went into the studio with Marty Manning and recorded the song as a single. It was originally the b-side to the sappy show tune "Once Upon a Time" recorded at the same session and also on this album. Bennett sang up a storm on that song, but it can't hold a candle to the greatness of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" so inevitably DJs flipped over the single and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" became a massive hit. In response Columbia cobbled together this album using older tracks. The oldest is Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" recorded using a Sharon arrangement in 1957. This is one of my favorite tracks. Sharon employed an exotic samba style approach to the song and Bennett gave it a swinging interpretation that enlivened the cynical lyrics. Sharon also arranged "Taking a Chance on Love" which Bennett recorded with Count Basie and his Band in 1958. This is another favorite. I'm a fan of Basie and he gave the song a swinging jazzy sound. Bennett is a great crooner, but I like him best as jazz singer and this song allows him to show his chops. These two songs exemplify the special relationship between Sharon and Bennett, he brought out the best in Bennett's style. Charles Chaplin's classic "Smile" was recorded and released as a single by Bennett in 1959. It is a sentimental song that invites a melodramatic interpretation, but fortunately that isn't Bennett's style. Despite a mawkish arrangement from Frank Burns, Bennett sings strongly but with emotional restraint, one of the better versions of this song that I've heard. A 1960 session with Frank DeVol yielded "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." It is a show tune from 1917 adapted from Chopin and originally performed on stage by the Dolly Sisters. DeVol's arrangement is typically heavy-handed with mushy strings and ethereal background singers, but Bennett's vocal is strong enough to cut through most of the goop. He makes the song sound almost contemporary with his wistful, romantic style. Another 1960 session with Cy Coleman produced "Marry Young" and "The Best is Yet to Come" which was released as a single that year. Coleman wrote both songs with Carolyn Leigh. "Marry Young" is a lovely romantic song with a very warm vocal from Bennett. "The Best is Yet to Come" is one of Bennett's best songs. The swinging arrangement supports Bennett's swaggering vocal. It is a classic performance. Coleman and Leigh's "Rules of the Road" was recorded in 1961 with Ralph Burns conducting and arranging. It is a terrific song given a gently swinging setting that puts it right in Bennett's wheelhouse. Bennett forcefully sings the worldly lyrics as if he really relates to them. Later in 1961 Bennett recorded "Candy Kisses" and "Tender is the Night" with Marty Manning. "Tender is the Night" was written for the movie of the same name and was even nominated for a best song Academy Award. It is appropriately dramatic but also kind of dreary despite Bennett's resonant vocal. The country song "Candy Kisses" is a lot better. Bennett sings with a lot of feeling despite Manning's stiff accompaniment. Manning also arranged and conducted "Have I Told You Lately" at the same session where Bennett recorded "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." It was written by Harold Rome for the Broadway show "I Can Get It For You Wholesale" which made Barbra Streisand a star. I think the arrangement is too slow and stodgy but Bennett sings it with a lot of enthusiasm. Despite the hodge podge construction of this album and the multitude of arrangers, it has a cohesive and consistent sound to it. I think that is a tribute to Bennett's style and vision, which is strong enough to overcome weak arrangements or indifferent material. The title track is an immortal classic and the three Coleman/Leigh tunes are first rate. I also really like "Love For Sale" and "Taking a Chance on Love." So that's six strong tracks out of twelve and the remaining six all have some merit. I mostly bought this record because I dug the cover, but it turned out to be a really good album as well. Recommended for staring out at the San Francisco Bay on a foggy day.